RANDOLPH — A store dubbed by locals as a landmark was gutted by fire in the early morning hours Wednesday, and investigators are waiting to view video from a surveillance system to help them pinpoint the cause.
Webb’s Store on Route 27, also known as Water Street, was reduced to a shell by the blaze, which was reported around 3 a.m. Wednesday. An investigator from the Office of State Fire Marshal is working to determine the cause of the fire.
Nobody was injured in the fire.
“It’s one of the landmarks of Randolph,” Fire Chief Ron Cunningham said as he hung yellow caution tape around the parking lot to keep people out.
Store owner Dan Kilmer said the store, which employs six people, was insured. He said he plans to rebuild.
“I’ve still got my tanks and my pumps,” Kilmer said. “That’s the most expensive part of the operation.”
The first firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke pouring out of the store’s ventilation system. Moments later, smoke was coming out of the roof, Cunningham said. Within 15 minutes, fire was through the roof.
Cunningham said it took firefighters from Randolph, Pittston, Farmingdale and Gardiner about 90 minutes to control the fire and another 90 minutes to put it out. Crews had to contend with 10 5-gallon containers of racing fuel stored inside the store.
“Five of them caught fire and intensified the fire tremendously,” Cunningham said.
The racing fuel, coupled with propane fuel tanks outside the store’s back wall, initially kept firefighters from attacking the fire from inside. Cunningham said firefighters focused part of their effort on keeping the propane tanks cool.
“There was no interior attack after the roof collapsed,” Farmingdale firefighter Bill Ebert said.
Firefighters also were challenged by subfreezing temperatures, which quickly froze spraying water and created a layer of ice that covered much of the parking lot around the store.
The section of Water Street, a main artery leading into Augusta, was closed for about four hours, Cunningham said.
“We wanted to get the road back open before the morning traffic,” he said.
Kilmer, who has owned the store for six years, said his security firm called him at 3 a.m. to report a burglary alarm. When he arrived minutes later, the building was engulfed in smoke. Police, who also were notified of the alarm, were already at the store and had called firefighters. Investigators said fires often trigger burglar alarms and that it is not necessarily an indication someone was inside beforehand.
“I thought someone had broken in,” Kilmer said. “I got here and she was a big fireball.”
Sgt. Kenneth Grimes of the Office of State Fire Marshal’s Office said Wednesday afternoon that investigators are still looking for the cause. He said video taken by security cameras before power was disrupted may aid in that investigation.
“We can’t see that until (today),” Grimes said.
Kilmer said he was experiencing a range of emotions, from calm to unease that left him physically ill. A few regular customers stopped by to wish Kilmer well once Water Street reopened. One of those well wishers only learned of the blaze when he stopped in for his morning coffee.
“It’s a landmark,” Kilmer said. “It’s toast.”
Craig Crosby — 621-5642 [email protected] Twitter: @CraigCrosby4